CHICAGO — Wrigley Field is a skittish place in October. So Saturday night, when the Cubs let an eighth-inning lead disappear into the night, the Friendly Confines suddenly were reduced to a catatonic mess.
The silence had even spread into the Cubs’ dugout, Kris Bryant noticed, though this was not a bad thing. There was no need for a rah-rah speech, no need for panic.
“Honestly, I figured there would be some talk like that,” Bryant said after Miguel Montero’s eighth-inning grand slam lifted the Cubs to an 8-4 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. “But nobody said anything, which was good.”
The game came down to the eighth inning, when Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman nearly pulled his team out of an impossible jam, only to allow the tying runs to score on a slice of heroics by Adrian Gonzalez.
But as they did against the Giants, the Cubs proved their mettle, this time mounting a rally unlike any other that had come before it. With the score tied 3-3, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts twice ordered intentional walks. The second loaded the bases to bring up Chapman, forcing Cubs manager Joe Maddon to summon a pinch hitter.
That hitter was Montero, who launched an 0-and-2 slider from Joe Blanton deep into the rightfield stands. According to Elias, it was the first pinch-hit grand slam that provided the winning runs in a postseason game.
With the ballpark still shaking, Dexter Fowler followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. But in the dugout, the Cubs were too busy celebrating Montero’s slam.
“I don’t think anybody saw Dexter Fowler’s homer,” said Javier Baez, who had earlier knocked in a run and then stolen home, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
In six innings, Cubs starter Jon Lester had allowed only a wind-aided homer by Andre Ethier, but he had given up hard contact, and Maddon pulled him after 77 pitches. The decision backfired in the eighth, when the Dodgers loaded the bases and Maddon summoned Chapman, looking for a miracle.
He almost delivered. After striking out Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig, Chapman allowed Gonzalez’s two-run single on a 102-mph fastball, and the score was tied at 3-3. For the second time in this postseason, Chapman had been asked to record the final six outs and failed.
But the Cubs did not buckle.
“It got quiet,” Baez said. “Obviously, we don’t want them to tie the game. But something we’ve been doing all year is not giving up. You guys saw it in San Fran.”
In the bottom of the eighth, which Ben Zobrist started with a double, Roberts turned into a riverboat gambler. With one out, he ordered an intentional walk of Jason Heyward to face Baez, who had doubled twice earlier. It worked when Baez lifted a flyout to right. Roberts then called for a walk of pinch hitter Chris Coghlan to load the bases, all as a ploy to have Chapman taken out of the game.
“It’s a crazy time of year,” said catcher David Ross, who couldn’t recall such a move. “Anything goes.”
But Montero took a flame thrower to the chess match.
Watching from a video room near the Cubs’ dugout, Baez felt the roof shaking, thanks to fans jumping up and down. He raced into the dugout in time to watch Fowler follow with a home run that capped a five-run inning and turned a night of ruin into one of revelry.
Since the LCS shifted to a seven-game format 30 years ago, the team that has won Game 1 has advanced to the World Series 21 times. The Cubs, trying for their first pennant since 1945 and first championship since 1908, took a critical first step toward eradicating those demons.
And they did so by again showing they would not blink. “I don’t think we’ve had games like that all year,” Bryant said. “But it’s something about the playoffs.”